Experts debate the future of the Cotswold national landscape

30 November 2023

As Natural England includes the Cotswolds in a list of possible sites to become a new National Park as part of a Government set of “nature pledges”, experts have gathered at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) to examine the past, present, and future of the landscape of the region.

The Cotswold Landscapes Symposium was attended by more than 70 people including delegates from local landscape-related organisations as well as RAU students from the University’s wildlife, countryside, and environment programmes. There were talks and discussions on areas ranging from agriculture, wildlife, water resources, and energy, to recreation, tourism, design, and heritage.

Supported by funding from the RAU and the Cirencester Civic Society, the meeting also coincided with the re-naming of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) as National Landscapes - a move supported by the Government to highlight the national importance of our most special areas.

Mark Horton, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise at the RAU, said: “We were delighted to be able to host this important initiative. We are all so fortunate to live and work in such a special place and are keen to see how we can best preserve and enhance it for the future.”

The symposium also marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of ’The Cotswolds - a new study’ by Charles and Alice Hadfield, which was one of the first books to look at the Cotswold Hills from a wide-ranging perspective. The symposium gave delegates the opportunity to bring these original themes up to date and to assess change over that time period.

Joint organiser Kelly Hemmings, Associate Professor in Ecology and Agroecosystems at the RAU, said: “The symposium was incredibly relevant and timely for our students, who described the day as 'absolutely brilliant’! They benefitted from the opportunity to discuss topical issues with sector professionals, as well as becoming more aware of the diversity of career options in landscape-related organisations.”

The event was organised by Peter Vujakovic, Emeritus Professor of Geography at Canterbury Christ Church University. He said: "This event proved the value of networking and collaboration if we are to plan a sustainable future for the Cotswolds. Our limestone landscape is an important element of a new initiative, BIG CHALK, stretching across the whole of southern England."

Other speakers included sector experts and academics including Jenny Phelps from the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, Tim Bevan from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, John Mills from Cotswold AONB/National Landscapes, and Sophie Price from Cotswold District Council.

There were also presentations from RAU students Muhammet Simsek and Sally Swannell, and a plenary panel which was chaired by Chris Short, Associate Professor in Environmental Governance at the University of Gloucestershire and a member of the Countryside Community Research Institute - a research, education, and knowledge exchange collaboration between the RAU, the University of Gloucestershire, and Hartpury College.